About the Author: Maura Pally is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
While it's not surprising to see American high school students walking the streets of Paris and London, it's still pretty unusual to find them in Trabzon or Samsun, Turkey. If you do come across a teenager from Idaho or Wisconsin in one of these more remote locations, chances are they're students on the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' (ECA) National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program.
The NSLI-Y programs gives American students a chance to study in parts of the world that most of their parents couldn't have imagined visiting when they were younger. NSLI-Y sends teenagers overseas to study critical languages not widely taught in American schools, including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Turkish. Exposing students to these languages early on in their education encourages the development of language skills critical in today's world.
On December 16, I had the opportunity to travel to Trabzon, Turkey and meet with the American students studying there. Amazingly, despite having arrived only four months ago with no Turkish language experience, these students can now converse easily and navigate a Turkish-speaking environment with confidence. In addition to language skills, they are learning about the rich culture and history of their Turkish community while sharing American culture with their new friends and families. After talking with them, their teachers, friends, and host families, it is clear to me that these students have created lasting bonds and have formed memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.
NSLI-Y students serve as citizen-diplomats for the United States, and share their perspectives and ideas with the people they meet, whether they're studying for just a summer, or are living abroad for an entire academic year.